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tv   Dateline NBC  NBC  November 20, 2009 9:00pm-10:00pm EST

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her first memoriesor were good. >> she had beautiful eyes, always smiling. >> sweet mary jane. her loving single mom swept off her feet. >> he wined and dined her. >> then came the bad memories. >> i remember hearing my mom screaming. >> soon she disappeared. >> we're all wondering, where's mary jane? >> found dead, murdered. >> that was not my beautiful little sister. that was something horrible. >> the investigation stalled for lack of evidence. >> the house was never
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processed, it wasn't photographed, nothing. >> there was one witness. the victim's child. >> he saw everything that night when she was murdered. desi was there. >> she saw the killer and she remembered. but how much did she understand? >> she would blurt things out. >> things no child should know. she was only 3 years old. >> i wanted to tell people what i knew and what i saw. >> but police never took her seriously. through the years, she kept her memory alive. >> then i saw him. she was crying and telling me to go. >> she never forgot the night go. >> she never forgot the night mary jane disappeared. captions paid for by nbc-universal television thanks for joinings us. i'm ann curry. a small child is the only witness to the murder of her mother. witnesses say they cannot rely on her testimony because she's just a toddler.
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how many 3 years old can remember something so traumatic and describe it accurately and in detail? you might be surprised. here's rob stafford. >> reporter: a child's memory. >> i remember big hair. that's the first thing i think about. >> a lot of hair. >> a lot of hair. very big hair. >> reporter: of an adored mother who disappeared. >> i remember feeling very, very sad and hurt, like, why would she leave me? how come she doesn't love me? was i bad? >> port: and a night of terror. do you remember the look on his face that night? she can never forget. have the nightmares stopped? >> no. >> reporter: desi was just 3 when her mother vanished into the cold november night. a toddler with haunted eyes and haunted dreams. >> reporter: while the
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investigation languished -- did police take fingerprints at the house? >> the house was never processed, photographed, nothing. >> reporter: the killer walked free. >> how different our life would have been if he had not been in it. >> reporter: and all desi could do was hold fast to her terrible memories and wait. it's mary jane's smile that everyone remembers, that infectious grin. >> she was just like a light, you know how fireflies gravitate to a light or something. that's how she was. >> reporter: the youngest of seven children growing outside toledo, ohio. she was hard to ignore. her older sister lulu said she loved to act. >> mary jane was thene to pull the pranks. >> reporter: she was loving, too. her mother maria said she would kiss her each day before school. when she was grown, they would
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chat on the phone most nights before bed. every night, that is, until the night she disappeared. perhaps it was not surprising, then, how much she loved her own daughter. mary jane found herself a single mom at 24, but her sister lulu said she didn't feel a moment's regret. baby desiree was with her blessing. >> they were inseparable. they were just like -- they would just look into each other's eyes and they were just completely connected. >> reporter: life wasn't easy those first years. mary jane scrambled to make ends meet. but in the summer of 1990, that was about to change. mary jane was a waitress at a diner and she was getting special attention from one with of of the customers. >> he would not want any other waitress except for her. >> reporter: tom was new to town. he had relocated to wisconsin to take a high-paying job at the jeep factory. he left mary jane $100 tips and
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promised her a better life. >> i'll take care of you and your daughter together and you won't have to worry about anything. >> reporter: after a whirlwind romance, the couple married in 1990. mary jane quit her job and moved into tom's bachelor pad off state road 51 in ohio. >> i thought, wow, what is she doing with this older gentleman? >> reporter: michelle was one of mary jane's oldest friends. she was surprised at the match. tom was nearly 17 years older than ma jane. but she was impressed with the tender way he treated his young bride. he was generous, too. >> he would buy her necklaces and rings. very nice, nice things. he wined and dined her so that was an attractive aspect in her life. wow, this is nice to be taken care of. >> reporter: and according to tom, mary jane needed some serious taking care of. just six months into their
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marriage, tom took mary jane's siblings aside one by one and told them their baby sister had a problem. >> that she was on drugs, that she's been going to toledo to buy her drugs and to take her drugs. >> reporter: 1 night her parents dropped by the zich home and found mary jane locked in the bathroom screaming for her daughter. tom said he had locked her in there for her own good. he was trying to stop mary jane from running off to score drugs. >> she had tied bed sheets and strung them out of the window. tom saw her get out of the window and he dragged her back in the house, screaming and kicking and crying. >> reporter: it was so painful will to witness. then, as suddenly as it came, the crisis was over. mary jane didn't seem to want to talk about it. >> a lot of times, you know, i would ask her, are you okay? and she'd just simply say yes. and she would go on to her bubbly little self and kind of like brush it off.
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>> reporter: early in december 1991, the family gathered for a holiday party. mary jane's mother was looking forward to seeing her. she hadn't called her for a few days. >> so then tom showed up with desiree. we're all just kind of like looking around wondering, where's mary jane? >> reporter: tom zich didn't have any answers for mary jane's brother joe. >> i says, where's mary jane? don't know. she took off. i said, what do you mean she took off? she left. i says, well, then what are you doing about it? he says, nothing. >> reporter: and all the time tom was talking one of mary jane's other brothers couldn't take his eyes off little desi's face. >> she had this look in terror in her eyes. i've never seen a child look that terrified in my life. once i saw that, i said, something terrible has happened here. this baby is so scared. something bad has happened. coming up --
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the truth turned out to be even worse than their fears. >> it was like a horror film. >> reporter: a horror witnessed by just one person besides the killer, mary jane's little girl. (announcer) we call it the american renewal and at ge it means innovating, inventing and building things. it means everything from shipping a new wind turbine every 4 hours to creating some of the world's most advanced healthcare technologies. manufacturinis part of ge's belief
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december 1991, the winter gloom hung over the smokestacks of the jeep plant. inside, tom clocked on as usual waiti for word. his wife had been missing for more than a week. >> my mom started calling us two or three times a day saying, have you heard from mary jane? have you seen her? >> reporter: mary jane's mother was used to her daughter's daily phone calls, not this unexplained silence. eight days after she had vanished, tom zich reported his wife msing to the ottawa county sheriff's office. he told deputies his wife it had gone out after receiving a phone call. he said she had run out on him before and she was an addict who had gotten involved with drug dealers. mary jane's brothers and sisters searched themselves looking for her car around town.
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but it was useless. there was no trace. almost three weeks after they had last seen her, mary jane's brothers got word. an ex-boyfriend spotted her car in downtown toledo, a known hot spot for drug trafficking. they rushed to the scene. >> the car was gone. there was nothing there so we went over to the barhere and asked if anybody had seen the car. they handed us a card and said, the detectives were here. they say they want you to call them. >> reporter: detectives from toledo's homicide unit. police had found the car before the brothers. a woman's body was in the trunk. >> it was like a horror film. i mean, that was not my beautiful little sister. that was something horrible. >> reporter: mary jane's brother danny identified the body. his 27-year-old sister missing forhree weeks had been strangled with a rope of some kind. toledo homicide detectives were at a loss. they had a body and a car, but no physical evidence that could
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lead them back to a crime scene. danny went on television pleading for information. >> i would like to say if anybody out there knows anything whatsoever, please come forward. help us right now because we're at a loss right now. we don't know where to turner tt, where to look. >> reporter: itdi't take long for the grief-stricken families to start pointing fingers. one of the brothers attacked tom zich at the funeral home. mourners tore them apart. her sixth siblings were convinc had taken her life. >> there's no other person it could have been. he didn't care about my sister at all. she was just like a piece of garbage he threw away. >> reporter: tom zich had a different story for investigators. >> he told the police that dan and i killed our sister because we found out she was on drugs and we killed her. >> he asked us where we were at during the time that mary jane
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disappeared, what we did to try to find her, why were we being interrogated when we were the victims? >> reporter: the brothers could barely contain their frustration with the investigation. police warned them not to take the law into their own hands. >> i had two sheriff's deputies come to the house. they told my wife to relay the message that if anything happened to tom zich they would be coming to arrest myself and my brother. >> and they'd be looking in the right place. >> at that time they would have been, definitely. yes, they would have. >> but unknown to mary jane's family, police now had another suspect in their sights. a secret boyfriend. a few weeks before the murder, michelle had figured out her childhood friend was having an affair. >> she wanted me to watch desiree just for a little bit. i think it was 15, 20 minutes. >> reporter: mary jane was late picking up her daughter. >> when she came back, it was a
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different mood. i said to her, what's going on? she had a hickey on her neck. that was the last time i seen her. >> what mary jane didn't tell michelle was the name of her lover. police found out it was none other than her high school crush kenny montano. he had served time and had been paroled. there it was, the drug connection. montano answered a few questions the first few days but then he stopped talking. he was a no-show at the police station. did he have something to hide? anonymous caller revealed a possible motive. mary jane had been pregnant by her lover. had montano killed mary jane when he found out about the baby? police sifted through the evidence and drew up a list of suspects. there was one person who said she knew exactly who the killer was. >> i wanted to tell people what i knew and what i saw. >> reporter: but would anyone
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listen? coming up -- investigators paid no attention, but they did find out mary jane had a dangerous secret. >> i did tell h that if he found out he'd kill her.
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when all this happened with my sister, it was just like it crushed us, that they didn't help us. >> reporter: the family of murder victim mary jane could not understand why police were not taking a closer look at her husband. why hadn't police set foot in their home to search for clues? >> we kept telling them, you need go in there and search the house. they kept saying, your family just needs to settle down and not overreact so much. >> reporter: maybe they were overreacting. after all, tom did not seem like a killer. he had a steady job, had served in the military. and mary jane was, what, according to tom, a troubled woman with a serious addiction. did they really know her anymore? is it possible your sister had a drug probable and sproblem and did leave? >> no. she was not a drug addict. my sister was not a drug addict.
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>> yore biased. >> yes, i am. because i know her. i knew my sister. she was not a drug addict. >> reporter: that's what michelle told police, too. mary jane was no addict and she couldn't understand why tom zich kept saying she was. >> he would come over unexpected and not invited. so it was very uncomfortable. it was very strange. you knew something was -- something was wrong. >> reporter: michelle had her own, far more horrifying, tale to tell investigators. scenes she had witnessed from the ziches maiage. >> she was standing there and just flushed and all red, and hot to touch and just very upset, shaken. >> reporter: mary jane was just out of the shower one with summer afternoon when her friend stopped by unannounced.
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she told her tom had locked her in a chicken coop they had on their property for over an hour in 90-degree weather >> it was just devastating to me. i just cried and cried with her. i knew at that point that it was sadist sadistic. >> reporter: a few weeks later, michelle met her friend in the park. it was a dull afternoon, but mary jane was wearing s ining ss and refused to take them off. i reached over and grabbed them glasses off her. as i did, she had a huge black eye. she goes, don't look now. he's here. and sure enough, as we walked through the park, he was there. i had seen him. different spots, and he was watching her and actually just basically stalking us. >> reporter: mary jane was planning to leave her husband, michelle says, but she was trying to figure out how to do it safely.
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>> she said, if anything happens to me, youake sure that my parents raise desiree. >> reporter: in retrospect, michelle thinks kenny montano, her friend's lover, made mary jane feel safe. far from being involved in her murder, michelle believes the ex-con was her protector. >> it was with her way out, i think. but at the same time i did tell her that if he found out he'd kill her. and she goes, yeah, i know. >> reporter: had tom zich somehow found out about the affair and killed his wife? mary jane's family pushed michelle to tell police what she knew. she gave a statement to the ottawa county sheriff's office. not long after police interviewed michelle mauder, they got a phone from a waitress at a diner not far from the zich home. she wanted to talk.
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luanna told police mary jane wasn't the only one interested in a new relationship. months before the murder, tom stopped by often. >> was tom just there for the food? >> i don't think so. >> he was interested in you? >> yes. >> just like with mary jane, he insisted just like luanna could only wait on her. he would pester her for dates. >> reporter: right from the start, tom had told luanna his marriage was over and that his wife was out to ruin him. >> he goes, well, she came home today and shetold me we're getting a divorce and she's hiring a lawyer and taking my properties. >> around the time of mary jane's disappearance, luanna
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said tom couldn't keep his story straight. first he said the marriage had ended amicably and he expected mary jane back any day. then he said mary jane walked out on him never to return. but tom didn't seem sad or anxious. quite the opposite she told police. he had joked about mary jane's funeral even before the body had been found, asking luanna to make a salad for the wake. >> i said, tom, you shouldn't even be thinking like that. you shouldn't even be thinking that she's already dead or anything. besides, you've got enough money you could hire a nice caterer and have a nice funeral. he said, she's had her last party on me. >> reporter: but most chilling was a conversation luanna said she had with tom and desi at the diner. >> desiree was there and i remember she was whispering in her dad's ear and he was whispering in hers. she goes, i need a new mommy.
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>> i need a new mommy. >> yeah. my n my mommy's been bad. >> reporter: luanna was not the only person surprised by the statements desi was making. the 3-year-old was living with his stepdad, but sometimes desi would start to say things, things the family recorded on tape. things that made the family think she knew something about her mother's fate and that she was in terrible danger. why is she in danger? >> because desi saw everything that happened to her mother that night when she was murdered. desi was there. >> reporter: and over and over again the 3-year-old struggled to explain what happened to her moer. >> she was saying that daddy
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i remember one time she was playing with a couple of barbie dolls and she was saying, the
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daddy and the mommy are fighting and the daddy hurt the mommy and mommy is crying and there's blood coming out of her eye. i'm, like, what's she talking about? she's only 3 years old. >> reporter: 3-year-old desiree was the daughter of mary jane zich. she lived with her stepdad tom but most evenings she would visit her grandmother when her dad went to work. >> she would at times blurt things out and we would, like, be blown away. >> reporter: desi's aunts and uncles started keeping a journal of the strange things desi said. mary jane died because mommy was bad. daddy had a rope and he can tie you up with it. the family suspected desi was talking about things she had witnessed, that her comments weren't fantasy, but memories. desi's aunt coaxed the little girl to repeat what she had said on audiotape.
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>> who was she screaming at? where is your mommy now? at? >> she -- she went -- she went to die. >> reporter: desi told her aunt she would sometimes sleep with her stepdad tom when she had nightmares. >> were you scared? why, baby? >> because. >> because why? >> because the monsters get me. >> the monster was in your room? >> he scared me. and he's gonna eat me all up. >> reporter: as the weeks passed, desi's stories became more explicit. she said the monster she was describing was none other than her stepdad tom zich and that she had seen him kill her mother. desi's family believed she was a critical eyewitness, but investigators at the toledo police department were skeptical. >> all we got told was that she
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was making up stories, that people were putting things in her head and this and that. >> fair to say you hate tom zich? >> absolutely. i hate him with a passion. >> did your hatred taint desi's memory of what happened? >> no. >> we never talked about tom when desi was small. we never tried to pump into her that, you should hate tom because he killed your mother. >> reporter: four months after mary jane's body was found, the investigation was at a standstill. desi's grandparents despaired. they were racked with worry for little desi. if what she was saying was true, the child was living with a man who she had seen kill her mother. at this point you're saying, the killer has custody. >> yes. >> an eyewitness. >> right. >> the family thought they saw signs of tom mistreating desi. >> every time she would come over to my mom and dad's she would have bruising on her. >> reporter: desi's grandparents
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tried to win custody of her through the courts but ailed. so one afternoon they simply refused to give her back after she had come to visit. tom zich reported the family to the local police. detective bud chastine got the call. he said he didn't like tom from the moment he met him and his suspicions only deepened when he found out about the murder of desi's mother. w would you describe tom zich? >> conniving, ma mip la tiff, just a dirt bag. >> reporter: still, the law was clear. tom had custody of desi so the officer told the family to give desi back. the detective pored over the homicide case files shgsz found out tom zich had a record in wis wais and ohio that included a dui and a citation for animal cruelty. but there was something else. >> he loved fire. there were numerous fires surrounding tom zich.
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none of them were ever proven to be of his doing, but very, very many of them were with suspect ed to be of his dog. >> reporter: the detective now agonized over desi's safety. he wrote in his notes, should we put a live-in plant in the home to protect the baby? six months later, family court placed desi with her grandparents. on a mission now, hastine took the evidence he collected to the local prosecutor. but the prosecutor told him he couldn't file charges against tom zich without something more concrete linking him to the crime. the problem was there was no physical evidence in the files, no investigator had ever looked inside the zich home. as soon as mary jane is found dead, shouldn't you go directly to that house where she was last seen and search it? >> i would think so. >> times were a little bit different back then. >> reporter: bob bratten took over as sheriff of ottawa county
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long after the initial investigation. that agency had responded to the missing persons report tom filed after mary jane disappeared. >> why wiaept the house searche back in '91? >> i'll be blunt. wht body was found in toledo, the ottawa county sheriff's administration, not our case anymore. everybody was pulled. >> reporter: in 1994, detective chastine persuaded the new sheriff to join him and work the case. now nearly three years since mary jane's death. 6-year-old desi was living with her grandparents. she says her memories of her mother's murder were as powerful as ever. a newly create task force arranged for her to talk to a psychologist. did you believe her? >> i believed her based on what the psychologist was telling us. absolutely believed her. >> reporter: the task force also got a look inside the zich home. it had been remodelled since mary jane's death, but
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investigators found a blood spot in the upstairs closet. >> why would that be back there? how did that get back in that part of the closet? so we looked at that as being supportive evidence or cause to pursue this further. >> reporter: the local prosecutor did not agree. once again he refused to file charges, saying the task force case was too weak. detective chastine was appalled. tom zich was still living in the janoa area. in 19 nintd 5 he was convicted of soliciting oral sex in order to pay a small fine. >> did you see him around town? >> oh, yeah. always had a smirk on his face. always had this, got away with it. >> reporter: but had he? he might have gotten away with it if it hadn't have been for the little girl who saw what happened and would finally tell her story. >> he was dressing her.
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how often do you think about your mom? >> every day. >> 21-year-old desiree had been
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haunted by her husband's murder since she was 3 years old. >> his hands were, like, around right in this area and she was laying with her back flat on the floor. >> reporter: as a little girl, desi told everyone who would listen that her stepdad tom was the killer, but nothing ever seemed to happen. were wi were you frustrated? >> there were times, yes. i just felt like almost like no one cared enough about my mom. >> reporter: so desi bottled up her terrible memories, not sure who to trust. she moved to texas when she was in high school, got married a few years later, and had a child of her own. and she learned to live with her nightmares. that's when it happened. out of the blue, she found out that toledo police department was reopening the case and the lead detective, steve forester wanted to hear her story. she started by telling him about the early days of her mother's marriage. they were happy at first, tom
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and her mom. >> every once in a while, they had a corvette, and they would take rides in it. i would remember seeing them drive up and her hair would be in the wind and they looked like they were having a good time. >> reporter: but then the marriage had started to unravel. there was a lot of fighting. >> he would with lock hlock herm for days as at a time. i just remember laying on the floor and seeing her fingers underneath the door. >> reporter: that night in november 1991 started like so many others, she told the detectives. >> i remember hearing a lot of fighting. i heard my mom screaming, and i saw him on top of her. >> reporter: desi says she peeked through a crac in her bedroom door. >> then i sawim strangling her. i just remember seeing her face and how much she was crying. >> reporter: desi says she heard her mother choking. tom yelled at her to close her door. terrified, she hid under her bed. she's not sure how long she was
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there. >> i went to their bedroom and he was over her. she was on the bed, and he was dressing her. and i member this distinctly because my mom always dressed beautifully and he was dressing h her in this sweatsuit. i remember thinking, that's not something she would want to wear. >> reporter: then shards of memory searching for her mother in the backyard, hiding from tom. but desi says she does remember her stepdad taking her to a garage with blacked-out windows. she saw her mom there are, she says, for the last time lying in the trunk of her car. >> i just saw her hair mostly. i said, what's mommy doing? he's, like, oh, she's just sleeping. and i knew that that wasn't right because people don't sleep in the trunk of a car. >> reporter: then there are desi's memories of the time she spent living side by side with the man who she says killed her mother. >> he would throw things at me.
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hewould hit me all the time. >> what was the lowest point? >> i remember tom telling me, she's not coming back because she doesn't love you and she doesn't care about you. >> reporter: it was a heartbreaking story, but was it enough to convict a man of murder? detective forester didn't think so. >> i wasn't going to come to the prosecutor's office and say, i have a case for you, by the way, your witness was 3 years old at the time. >> reporter: forester started piecing together the evidence one last time, looking for any clues previous investigators had missed. december 18, 1991, mary jane's body was found in the truvg of her car. the coroner report showed strangling with a lig atur. it also said no drugs in her body. that didn't match tom's story. he was telling everybody this was a drug murder. >> any evidence she was doing drugs? >> no. >> there was also semen in mary
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jane's body. it had never been tested. forester sent it to the lab and got a hit. she had sex shortly before she died. >> kenny montano's semen was found you in her body. >> right. >> kenny was her high school sweetheart. he ducked investigators looking for information in 1991. now he couldn't avoid them. he was back in prison, this time on a manslaughter conviction. he killed a man in a bar fight. despite his criminal record, the cold-case detective quickly concluded montano was who he said he was, mary jane's lover, not her killer. he helped forester piece together mary jane's last days. she and desi spent thanksgiving with montano and his family. the next day she went home, told kenny she was going to ask for a divorce. >> desiree was at the house with tom zich once mary jane had gone
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missing. so there was never a question that mary jane made it home. >> did anyone see mary jane come out of that house? >> no. >> if desi was telling the truth, then mary jane had been strangled in the home. but there are was no physical evidence to corroborate desi's story. or maybe there was. forester noticed something about marriry jane's body. >> she was described by friends and family as a meticulous person, always lipstick, makeup, never would go anywhere without being completely made up. yet here she is in the trunk dressed very casually with no underwear on. >> reporter: forester speculated that tom and mary jane had started to fight when she got out of the shower. then like desi said, zich killed her and dressed her grabbing anything he could find. what made tom zich snap? forester needed to talk to people who could help him get
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inside the prime suspect. he was shocked by what he found. >> god forgive me. i know it's not nice. but he's a devil. >> coming up -- investigators unearth the suspect's dark secrets. >> he started to strangle me. >> what they found would finally expose what happened the night mary jane disappeared. my muscles ached all over. i felt this deep lingering pain that was a complete mystery to me. my doctor diagnosed it as fibromyalgia muscle pain and then he recommended lyrica. fibromyalgia is thought to be the result of over-active nerves that cause chronic, widespread pain. lyrica is fda-approved to help relieve the unique pain of fibromyalgia. and with less pain, i can do more during my day.
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i knew, in my heart, that he did this, and i was sick. i was sick about it. >> reporter: sharon had been married to tom zich more than a decade before mary jane's death. she was eager to talk to cold-case detective steve forester about her ex. >> i don't want to shed another tear over that man. >> reporter: for four years tom had seemed like the perfect husband and father to her two young daughters, sharon told the detective.
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but that all changed one night when she caught him kissing another woman in a bar. tom flew into a rage. >> he gets in my car and he started stroking my hair, and he said, i really did love you. and with that he started to strangle me. >> reporter: sharon can only guess why tom let her live. she grabbed her children and went into hiding. forester was gripped by the coincidence. mary jane had been strangled, too. what's more, when the detective delved further into tom's past, he found out he had been married a total of six times. those wives who would talk to the detective described a violent, controlling man. when he lost his temper, they said, tom zich went for the throat. even more convinced tom was his killer, the cold-case detective tried to figure out how he could have committed the crime. >> our theory is that he drove
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desiree to toledo with the body in the trunk. >> reporter: and a picture gradually emerged. forester tracked down a woman who remembered babysitting for tom around the same time mary jane went missing. had this woman ever met desiree before? >> no. >> ever babysat? >> no. not before or since. >> he's suddenly having her take the child. >> yes. >> frantically. >> had he dropped off desiree and then dumped the car by the dive bar? how would tom have been able to pick up desi after dumping the car? buried in the case files, forester found the statement of a man who said he had given zich a lift home from a diner in toledo back to his home in ge a genoa. had tom picked up his truck and gone to fetch desi home again before anyone noticed they were gone? so this puzzle is coming together. are are you there yet? >> yeah, i think we're close. >> reporter: but what forester
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really wanted was a confession of some kind. >> the last time that anybody saw her was the day after ody thanksgiving that year, right? >> well with, i'm not sure. >> armed with a hidden recording device, forester and his partner tracked down tom zich. he wasn't hard to find. he was still working at the jeep factory. what was his demeanor? >> con artist, calm, trying to manipulate us. >> what struck you most about talking to tom zich? >> i think what struck me most is how insignificant these women
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are to him. >> reporter: forrester noticed 31 inconsisties in tom zich's version of events, 31 ways his statement could be picked apart. in june 2007, tom zich was arrested and charged with murder. he pleaded not guilty. to see that picture of tom zich in handcuffs, what with does that feel like? >> it feels like now we're in control almost. now you don't get to do whatever you want to do. >> reporter: the trial of tom zich opened in june 2009, nearly 18 years after mary jane's body had been discovered. prosecutors told desi she was their star witness, and for days she waited anxiously preparing to face down the man she says killed her mother. >> i wanted him to look at me and i wanted to look at him and for him to see that i wasn't afraid of him. >> reporter: as witness after witness testified, the waitress, the ex-wives, her mother's best
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friend, desi wondered when she would be called to the stand. >> next witness. >> reporter: prosecutors decided they had enough without her. >> state has rested. is the defense prepared to call witnesses? >> reporter: then a shock. >> we rest. >> reporter: the defense attorney rested without calling a single witness as if the prosecution's case wasn't worth rebutting. closing arguments were brief. >> took a rope and he placed it around mary jane zich's neck, and he held it tightly until she wasn't moving anymore. >> there is not one shred of physical evidence linking tom to this case. zero. >> reporter: the jurors deliberated for a little less than four hours. >> we the jury find the defendant guilty of murder. >> reporter: desi, surrounded on all sides by family, couldn't hold back her tears when the
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verdict was read. >> it was very emotional for me to be next to my grandma. i can't imagine what it would be like to lose a child, and she was so strong and just being with all of them really helped me get through it. >> reporter: tom zich was sentenced to 15 years to life. he's appealing the verdict. in the meantime, because of the appeal, zich's lawyer says he cannot comment on allegations zich was violent toward some of his ex-wives, that he physically abused desi or that he may have been involved in arson. calling the allegations nothing more than rumors and inwednes i. as for desi, she's enrolled in college. she wants to be a doctor. now she says she can let go of those dark, terrible memories she held for so long and embrace the good. >> she had beautiful eyes, very bright. she was always smiling. always smiling. >> reporter: it's those memories she wants her little boy to hear about, the little boy with


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